Friday, December 31, 2010

Notes on "Casting Shakespeare's Plays" - Chapter 4

Q1 of 2 Henry 6 has fewer spoken lines than appear in F, but does not require fewer actors, which contradicts the theory that Q1 is printed from a version cut for touring (for size requirements) (78).

The quarto of 3 Henry 6, like the quarto of 2 Henry 6, is shorter than its appearance in F, but does not require significantly fewer actors to play, and therefore should not be thought of as a version cut for touring (79).

"The casting requirements for F (Richard III) are almost the same as for Q1" (80). The idea of plays cut down so they could more easily tour is one of the center pieces of the new bibliographic concept of these pirated bad quartos, and while Gurr has presented some very good evidence to counter those theories, King sure is helping.

King takes the F stage direction from Midsummer "They sleepe all the Act" to mean the lovers sleep through an onstage musical interlude, but I think it is rather a sign to indicate that they remain on stage, even though they don't say anything. A signal to a reader, or perhaps even an actor, that they are not to go anywhere when they've run out of lines (84).

The quarto text of Henry V also requires a similar number of actors as the Folio text; 20 men and 4 boys in Q, 23 men and 5 boys in F. Even though F contains about twice as many spoken lines as Q, it is therefore unlikely, as Greg suggests, that Q is an adaptation for touring. Taylor's proposition that Q is a reduced cast version (for nine or ten men and two boys) is also inaccurate in light of this evidence (87).

King notes, of Troilus and Cressida, that "the fourteen men required in fifteen principal parts are significantly more than the average of ten men required in principal parts parts for other Shakespeare plays, and this lends support to the argument that the play was written for private performance" (89). But what about the 20 men and 4 boys that the shorter Q of Henry V requires? Why not commentary on that?

King, T. J. The Casting of Shakespeare's Plays: London actors and their roles, 1590 - 1642. Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1992. Print.

Notes on "Casting Shakespeare's Plays" - Chapter 3

"Two manuscript playbooks and thirteen early printed texts identify the men and boys who act the principal roles in each play. Seven of these plays were first performed by Shakespeare's company, the King's Men, between 1619 and 1631, and eight were first acted by other London companies between 1625 and 1636" (50).

From the extant playbooks (manuscript and print) of the period, in no instance do all of the company sharers perform in the same play, and hired men, who were paid a weekly wage, play some lesser principal parts, and almost all of the smaller ones (50).

The manuscript to Arthur Wilson's The Swisser is carefully prepared, but shows no signs of playhouse use, which may indicate that it was prepared for the press (60). While there seems to have not been much of a standard practice in what sort of text was sent from the playhouse to the printshop, William Proctor Williams has asserted that the printshop would have insisted on fair copy for the very good reason that printshops were in the business of printing books, not of deciphering foul papers. That said, it is also possible that the manuscript was simply prepared as a manuscript book; the printshop was not the destination of all fair copy.

The briefest time allowed for a change occurs in The Duchess of Malfi, when only 246 lines pass between the exit of a Madam in 4.2 and the entrance of Delio in 5.1; both roles were played by Underwood (77).

Notes on "Casting Shakespeare's Plays" - Chapter 2

The principal adult and boy players in The Battle of Alcazar (which is the only early modern play for which both a plot and a printed text is extant) speak 98% of the lines, which is consistent with with the distribution of lines in extant prompt-books from pre-Restoration London that identify the names of the players in principal parts (27).

Of interest to me, in the plot of The Second Part of the Seven Deadly Sins, "four boys plays seven principal female roles" and while several of the adult principal roles are doubled "each actor who doubles in principle [sic] parts is off-stage for an interval of at least one full scene between roles" (29).

While the plot of The Battle of Alcazar is the only extant plot for which the text of the play itself is also extant, the plot is incomplete, and there is at least one instance where the plot differs from the printed play: a 35 line scene between Abdelmelec and Zareo is cut from the version of the play upon which the plot is based (31).

In assembling tables of parts, where one character is given multiple names, King separates them with a hyphen as opposed to giving the different character names their only row in the table (33). This is slightly different from my previous practice, but seems more logical. I'm only writing it down so I remember to implement it the next time I run into this situation.

Adult actors playing larger principal roles usually do not double, but lesser principals regularly double in one or two "minor roles" (33).

The book-keeper has added the note "Enter mr Goughe" in the left margin of one of the pages of The Second Maiden's Tragedy, which King says is "probably as a reminder that this new entrance for Memphonius should be added to the plot and that his new lines should be added to Goughe's part" (35). Again, while I agree with him, King's implication is that this is the only, or perhaps even the primary, reason for so doing, and all evidence I have seen suggests this is not the case.

In his edition of Sir John van Olden Barnavelt, Howard-Hill observes that there are too many "inconsistencies, obscurities, and errors," and that "the manuscript did not give a prompter all the information he would have required to guide performances" (35 - 38). King seems to accept this without comment, but the suggestion that a book would be used to guide performances would seem to imply that a prompt-book is used in guiding the performance.

The manuscript allowed-book of The Honest Man's Fortune was probably based on a prompt book, and contains a scene (5.3) not printed with the play in the Beaumont and Fletcher Folio (1647) (40).

Assigning the greatest proportion of lines to principal players allows them to rehearse their parts independent of supernumeraries for as long as possible (48). This makes a huge deal of sense in light of Stern's argument that most of the time an early modern player spent in rehearsal would have either been on their own with the part, or in the presence of an instructor.


Evidence of who played which roles in the early modern London playhouses suggest that a single male sharer in the company tended to play the largest roles in a given play, with the other principal roles being distributed largely among company members. Principal players might have doubled with smaller roles (roles with less than 25 speaking lines), and hired men taking on other non-principal roles, and perhaps (along with playhouse staff) filling supernumerary roles as necessary.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Notes on "Casting Shakespeare's Plays" - Chapter 1

Shakespeare's plays require a relatively constant number of principal actors: ten for male roles and ten for female roles. For a male role, this means a character that speaks at least 25 lines, and for a female at least 10 (1).

King's use of the term "principal" is based on Ben Jonson's identification of the principal plays of Shakespeare as a "principal comoedian" with the Chamberlain's Men when they performed Every Man in his Humour in 1598, and as a principal Tragoedian with the King's Men when they performed Sejanus in 1603, as well as from the front matter of the First Folio, which lists "the Principall Actors in all these Playes" (1).

"Not all actors in principal roles are sharers, nor do all the available sharers appear in each of the plays that the company performs" (4). Fascinating.

c.f. G. E. Bentley, The Profession of Player in Shakespeare's Time. Princeton 1984.

Doubling was a common practice within the Lord Chamberlain's/King's Men, and earlier scholarship on the casting procedures of their repertory tends to ignore this fact (4).

Roughly twenty plays printed between the 1530s and 1570s are 'offered for acting,' and are printed with cast lists that show the number of actors they require. Ulpian Fulwell's 1568 Like Will to Like is a moral interlude that describes how five actors 'may easily play' sixteen roles. John Pickering's 1567 Horestes contains a cast list demonstrating how six actors can play twenty seven characters. See also the 1570 Clyomon and Clamydes, which acknowledges that supernumerary roles, and even the excellence of costume, may be limited (4 - 5).

c.f. The Doubling of Parts in Shakespeare's Plays by Arthur Colby Sprague (london 1966). Sprague observes that 55 performances of Hamlet between 20 April 1730 and 30 April 1914 where Polonius doubles as the First Gravedigger (5).

Authors of the period prepared a plot of the play they wished to write describing how many actors would be necessary for given scenes, which they would submit to the company for approval (6).

"Some actors moved from one company to another just as acting companies moved from one playhouse to another" (7).

It seems a common practice that an author was advanced a sum of money on the acceptance of the plot, and was sometimes (based on Henslowe's records) given further advances based on stages of development. It is likely that only after such an initial payment was made would the author begin the work of writing the dialogue according to the approved plot. Before final payment for the script was made to the author, it seems the usual case for a company to insist on being given a fair copy of the play (7 - 9).

The text of the extant part of Orlando Furioso is written in secretary hand, and contains certain gaps where it seems as if the scribe was unable to decipher the writing for the player to insert later from the prompt book (10).
I don't know if I agree with King's contention that this was a playhouse scribe, for if it was, why would they presume the actor would be better able to read the book if they could not? Unless either the book or the copy the scribe was working from was not-quite fair copy. King cites the case of Machiavel and the Devil on page 9, where a scribe began making parts from rough copy before the play was finished.

John Higgens, in his 1585 Nomenclator defines the book-keeper as "he that telleth the players their part when they are out and have forgotten, the prompter or book-holder" (qtd on 10).
This calls into question Gurr's assertion that the use of the word "prompt book" is anachronistic, and also my own that the New Bibliographers were speaking of the duties of the prompter without necessarily having a clear understanding of what those duties were. If an allowed book had to be legible enough to use to be able to feed lines to actors, than a foul papers setting seems to not be appropriate to the task.

The promptbook for Fletcher and Massinger's Sir John van Olden Barnavelt (1619) does not list the names of actors for the largest principal roles, but does give them for lesser principal roles that double. In each of these cases, the actor is off stage for a complete scene to allow for the costume change (11).

"Most of the other actors' names added to the texts of the prompt books -- and the early texts of Shakespeare -- are those of hired men who played minor parts" (11).

Principal actors sometimes doubled with minor parts, but it was rare for a hireling to perform a principal role (11).

While a modern prompt book is a complete and detailed record of all technical requirements and cues for a production, the seventeenth century counterpart did not provide nearly as complete a technical record. The book-keeper would instead prepare a scene-by-scene plot breakdown, add names of actors to characters, and would then hang this document in the tiring house; when notes appear in prompt-books about technical requirements or actors names, it is probably because the book-keeper was taking notes at rehearsals for later inclusion in the plot (13).
I'm not sure I can accept the exclusivity of King's assertion. We use scene breakdowns and prop and costume lists all the time backstage in the modern theatre during performance, and while those are created from notes in the Stage Manager's book, the book itself is used as a guide during performance. If Higgens is correct in his contemporary description of how a prompter and book-holder used a book, there would have been someone reading along with the performance.
"An actor can learn a minor part of twenty-five lines or less with about an hour of study and rehearsal" (13).

According to Henslowe's Diary, the time elapsed between payment to the author (or authors) for The Conquest of the West Indies was about one month, which may be the time alloted to rehearsal. In another instance, for Madmen's Morris, the same period was about two weeks (14).
This does not mean that parts could not have been made from rough copy in advance in either case. It is a vague approximation, but that said, I know from my own experience that either time frame can be long enough to rehearse a complete play. 
In The plott of ffrederick & Basilea "ten leading actors of the company are identified in ten principal roles without doubling; four boys play four principal female roles without doubling. Two hired men play ten minor parts, and five playhouse attendants and gatherers play Lords, Guards, Confederates, and Soldiers" (15).

Based on the evidence King examines, it seems common practice for boys' parts to not be doubled, and for playhouse employees to play supernumerary characters (14 - 15).

"Shakespeare's earliest tragedy [Titus Andronicus] (1594) and a late romance [The Tempest] (1611) have the same basic plan for casting... this plan for casting Shakespeare's plays is derived from common theatrical practice at London playhouses of this period" (19).


Using playhouse documents from the period, it is possible to discern patterns and trends of patterns in the ways in which the plays of the period were cast. This will not only help us understand how the plays were performed, it can help us understand how the plays may have been cut or adapted, and what that might imply for company sizes at various times.


King, T. J. The Casting of Shakespeare's Plays: London actors and their roles, 1590 - 1642. Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1992. Print.

Notes on "The Alleged Popularity of Playbooks"

Blayney challenges Farmer and Lesser's "The Popularity of Playbooks Revisited" in this article; he perceives Farmer and Lesser's impetus being a case of simple overstatement of what Blayney himself wrote in "The Publication of Playbooks," but still feels that Farmer and Lesser's argument does not hold up "historically, logically, and mathematically" (33).

For the purposes of this article, and answering Farmer and Lesser's charge, Blayney has shifted his metric from play texts to play books, and notes that so considered "the most immediately pertinent difference is that although 40.8 percent of plays were reprinted within twenty-five years, the figure for playbooks is only 32.4 percent" (34).

A printer was more often than not simply hired by a publisher; cases in which the printer was a partner in the process should be regarded as exceptional (36).

Farmer and Lesser are correct in setting aside official publications, "advertisements, blank forms, privately printed petitions, and the like" not because they were commonly printed, but because they were never intended to be sold to the general public vis-a-vie booksellers (36).

Farmer and Lesser should not have been so quick to discount books printed for the secret, Catholic presses because it would be "unhistorical" to presume that those books were printed to be given away en masse to prospective converts: they were printed to be sold to the faithful (36).

Blayney's original figures for the ratio of printed playbooks to other books do not drastically differ from Farmer and Lesser's (37).

While Farmer and Lesser make the claim that they will demonstrate that playbooks were far more popular than Blayney describes, they instead arrive at the conclusion that "playbooks were hardly marginal" (37).

Patented books, in general, were subject to the sam restrictions of the Stationer's Company as other books; only royal proclamations were exempt from the limit of 1000-1500 copies per edition (38).

While it may be true that monopolies eliminated competition for some classes of books, Farmer and Lesser's claim is an exaggeration: indeed, the power these monopolies exerted was an exaggeration in the late sixteenth century as well (38 - 39).

"The only class patents that really prevented anyone from publishing new books they might have wanted to publish were those for musical part-books and for almanacs" (39).

By considering books published for the captive audiences of churches, students, and lawyers, Farmer and Lesser ignore the possibility that these books could have been purchased by anyone should they wish to have their own private copy to study from or use during a church service (39).

"Market share in the real world is not always greatly affected by what publishers (sometimes wrongly) think will sell, and is not determined at all by what academics subsequently chose to study. What counts is what the customers actually buy" (40). Amen.

To the claim that more than twice the percentage of playbooks was reprinted than the percentage of sermons, Blayney says that Farmer and Lesser "ignore an elementary arithmetical truism that completely vitiates their main conclusion. Simply put, a small percentage of a large number can be much bigger than a large percentage of a small number." 32.5% of 345 playbooks means that 112 playbooks were printed in a second-plus edition, whereas 17.5% of 1328 sermons means that 232 sermon-books were given second-plus editions (43).

The fallacy of Farmer and Lesser's argument is built on comparing percentages without regard to the actual values they represent. When examining real numbers of printed plays verses sermons, as either books or texts, sermons consistently outsell plays by a wide margin (44).

"Of the 151 known publishers [of playbooks], eighty-four (55.6 percent) died before seeing a single reprint" (46).

"Unless we recognize and accept just how massively important godly books were to early modern readers, we will never fully understand the background of the dramatic literature we now value so much more than they did" (47).


Blayney pretty damningly refutes some key points of Farmer and Lesser's article.


Blayney, Peter W. M. "The Alleged Popularity of Playbooks." Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol. 56, No. 1. Spring 2005. p 33 - 50.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why three versions.

There are three versions of my text of Merry Devil, each of which represents a specific phase of the process, and each of these is more suitable to a different audience. The first version of the text is my blueprint edition: this edition conservatively follows the principles of bibliographic scholarship to create a text that suitable for rescripting into a performance text.

The second edition of Merry Devil is the performance text, rescripted to suite the needs of our specific company, and our specific production. This involved re-assigning certain lines to accommodate having fewer actors than the blueprint version calls for, and removing some of the less sensible portions of the play that rely on scenes or passages that are missing from the extant text. This version still includes a significant amount of variation so that the cast could chose from the variations of words and phrases between Q1, Q2, and Q3 that made the most sense to them as performers.

The third edition of Merry Devil incorporates the choices of the acting company, and at the same time undoes several of the edits made for the purposes of our production. The governing logic of this edition is both bibliographical and performance-based, which is both a weakness and a strength.

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 6

An editor "must give reasons which shall cohere with all the bibliographical evidence both for the choice of the text upon which he founds his edition, where a choice is offered him, and for any textual changes which he admits into his text" (96). This is true, but if the editor stops at considering bibliographical evidence, they are going to do shallow work.

Greg believed that bibliographical scholars are editors should be two separate persons, the former investigating the facts of textual transmission, and the latter concerning themselves with creating critical editions based on those facts (97). So.... why didn't they stick to this plan? Or did the critical editors of the New Bibliography swallow the bibliographic narrative wholesale? Or did the bibliographers over-reach?

Once a given text is established as having more authority (i.e. being closer to the writer's manuscript) than another, that text should be chosen as the copy-text, and only emended or otherwise altered after careful consideration of Bibliographic evidence (102).

c.f. Percy Simpson's Shakespearean Punctuation (1911).

Elizabethan punctuation was more attentive to the pauses in spoken English than, as modern punctuation is, grammatical constructions in written English (107).

Hand D of Sir Thomas More, which is presumed to be Shakespeare, is only lightly punctuated, and given Moxon's direction that a corrector be 'very sagacious in Pointing' it is impossible to know how much the punctuation of a printed play book is the authors and how much the compositor's (108-109). Of course, an annotating reader might have also marked a text for punctuation before it was passed to a compositor (c.f. Massai).

While printshops tended to normalize spellings in-house, it is likely that a less-experienced compositor would have set his print direct from copy and without attempting to normalize, which creates a greater variation of spelling within a text (as in Q2 Hamlet) (109 - 111).

'While literary judgments are notoriously as shifting as the sand, bibliography provides a foundation of fact -- the rock of fact.' -- John Dover Wilson (qtd on 112).

Variations in the spelling of a characters name may be a sign of multiple compositors rather than authorial revision half-completed or multiple authors (113). You see that a lot in Merry Devil, I wonder what Wilson would say to the phenomenon of characters having the wrong names in the text (as opposed to speech prefix). I feel as if that is less likely to be a compositor error than an authorial one.

The best test for an emendation is that it is consistent with what is known or surmised of the textual history, agrees with the style of the author at the time of the writing, is the only probable reading that is appropriate to the context, and can explain the reason for the corruption (115).

Where it is supposed that a corruption in a printed text has arisen from a misreading of copy, it must be demonstrated that the manuscript words proposed could be mistaken for those printed, and the spelling falls within the range of variation witnessed in good quartos" (119-120). While some quartos may be better than others, I don't think any of them are necessarily bad.


New Bibliography has "profoundly changed editorial principle and practice. But no bibliographer would think for a moment of claiming that bibliography by itself is enough. To no aspect of Elizabethan literature, language, or life can an editor afford to be indifferent, and the ideal editor is at once bibliographer and critic, historian and antiquary, paleographer, philologist, philosopher, and theologian" (121). Where the New Bibliographers have failed is that, nowhere in that list appears anything approaching being a theatrical practitioner. Shakespeare was a man of the theatre, and while most writers for the stage were not, their customers were, and every producer must cater to the wants of their consumers.

New Bibliographers revolutionized the practice of editing, but for all their achievements, they neglected to look deeply enough into the one practice that was the sine qua non of Elizabethan playwrighting: the professional playhouses of early modern London. The narratives the New Bibliographers created neglect to account for the business of printing and playing, and the one fact that everyone who works in the entertainment industry knows: not all profits are necessarily immediate or monetary in nature.

Wilson, F.P. Shakespeare and the New Bibliography. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1970. Print.

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 5

Pollard argued that printed texts of Shakespeare's plays, especially the Folio, were closer to his manuscripts than most earlier editors had thought, and that several of these were probably set from his own holograph (65).

"The problem of deciding whether a play was printed from the prompt-book is often difficult and sometimes insoluble (66).

Evidence for Folio texts being set from authorial copy, whether foul or fair papers, derives from the inclusion of several named actors in the speech prefixes who flourished at the time the plays were written, but were no longer in the company by the time the Folio was printed. It is likely that, were these plays set from playhouse prompt-scripts, those names would have been replaced by either characters or other actors (67 - 68). And yet Wilson ignores the possibility that it could be both; as he himself notes that prompt-book annotations usually appear in a different hand and form than the surrounding play-text, and are easily excluded by a compositor so directed (67). Again, Wilson is relying on an early 20th century interpretation of a job that had begun to disappear from the professional stage at the time he originally wrote (his original essay, upon which this book was written, first appeared in 1945).

NB: research the role of the prompter in 20th century theatre. I need to figure out where the prompter would have been known as primarily the task of the previous generation. I'm pretty sure that the job would have been obsolete by the mid-20th century. As Stern and Gurr describe the task, early modern book-keepers didn't necessarily need to have uniform prompt copy, and from my own experience, it is often easier to track an actor by their proper name than it is by the diversity of characters they may play in a single production.

Wilson acknowledges, as Gurr notes, that the prompt-book would be too valuable a commodity to hand over to the printers, as it would contained the authorizing signature of the Master of Revels, which is what allowed the play to be performed anywhere in England. Wilson theorizes that authorial draft, from which the prompt-book would have been set, would make a more logical choice to turn over to the printers (71). A more logical choice, perhaps, but certainly not the only choice; and if it was not uncommon practice for audience members to make transcriptions of plays they heard, it is equally possible that the KM might have hired someone to transcribe the play as it was performed one afternoon. Or else they might have sent over a collection of parts from a company member who no longer needed them because they were memorized. Or maybe the one supplemented the other.

A licensed prompt-copy of the play may have been submitted for license for printing, while a different copy, such as foul papers, submitted to the printer (72).

Wilson talks about "O, o, o, o" after "the rest is silence" as being a notorious idiosyncrasy of Burbage (74).

"In choosing to reprint these plays [in the Folio that were reprinted from earlier quartos] from the handiest instead of from the earliest and best texts, the Folio not inexcusably falls far short of the textual standards of modern scholarship" (77 - 78). Which is a key, here; modern scholarship cares about things that the KM or their printers never would have bothered about.

It is also possible that some of the Folio texts were printed from copy that was based on prompt copy, in whole or in part (79 - 80).

Greg, in his 1910 edition of Merry Wives, concluded that the quarto text was memorially reconstructed from the player who played the Host; this study laid the foundations for further study of the bad quartos (81). Naturally, I want to get my hands on this, as quarto Merry Wives is a cousin text to Merry Devil.

Two other "bad quartos" exist: The Battle of Alcazar, and Orlando Furioso. In the case of the former we have the original plot, and in the latter the actor's part, as a point of comparison, and from this Greg determined that The Battle of Alcazar was a case of "simple abridgment," although Orlando Furioso was "impoverished" by the addition of more comic scenes (82). Quality and causation judgments aside, this is fascinating.

"In 1608 [Thomas] Heywood speaks of some of his plays being 'copied only by the ear', which is ambiguous. In a prologue written c. 1632 and printed in 1637 he mentions 'Stenography' as responsible for the corruption of his If You Know Not Me (1605)" (86).

Even into the eighteenth century, memory played a more significant role in the pirating of live performance than did note taking or actors parts (86 - 87).

If shorthand notes of a reporter were available for use in reconstructing a performed play text, they would have likely been augmented by the memories of one or more witnesses to the theatrical event, however G.I. Duthie conclusively demonstrated that Elizabethan short hand was not up to the task of reconstructing a play text from a performance in Elizabethan Shorthand and the First Quarto of 'King Lear' (88).

The memorial reconstruction of a play text from dictation might account for "bad-verse lineation, light stopping, mishearings, and actors' phrases" (90).

When a dramatist wrote that their play would take two hours to play, they probably meant two hours and not much longer than that. The same can be said when they said "three hours" (91). I don't think the playwrights should be taken so literally as Wilson seems to feel compelled to, especially in light of the article I recently read by Hirrel.


It seems to me the crucial flaw of the New Bibliography was when the New Bibliographers presumed they knew anything about the theatrical practices of Elizabethan London. Their interpretations of playbooks and other evidence of the playhouse seems based on their own limited experiences of the modern stage, and those are insufficient grounds to serve as the foundation for any argument about how the materials were used. It also seems likely that they committed similar mistakes regarding the literary value, as the players or the reading public of early modern London saw them, of printed plays. Their work with the materials is groundbreaking, and the evidence they have gathered is still extremely useful, but the conclusions that they draw are based on too many suppositions about fields which they knew little.

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 4

While printed books inherently provide evidence of printshop practices, since there is no extant dramatic manuscript used for printed copy, bibliographers that wish to reconstruct the kind of manuscript a play was printed from have to rely on circumstantial evidence. This includes the information contained in stage directions, textual corruption, and mislineation (50).

Scientific advances in the 20th century have enabled bibliographic work that was impossible in earlier eras. New and improved photographic techniques have enabled photo-facsimiles of printed books and manuscripts, and new and improved scientific instruments have enabled researchers with access to the original documents to discover more about them than would otherwise be knowable (50).

cf Maunde Thompson Shakespeare's Handwriting. 1916.

cf W. W. Greg Henslowe Papers. 1916.

cf W. W. Greg Dramatic Documents from the Elizabethan Playhouses (1931).

"The confusion of the More manuscript would have made it useless for prompting" (57). Gurr and Stern have elsewhere noted that prompting is an anachronistic term, and Wilson's sense of the duties of a "prompter" in the period may be a bit skewed.

"Prompt-books differ very much among themselves" (58). Amen. Wilson goes on to discuss the divers ways in which a prompt-book acquired annotation for use in the playhouse on page 59.

"In one respect, and in only one, prompt-books are alike: they are all in folio" (60).

The only extant part from an early modern play that has survived is is for Orlando in Greene's Orlando Furioso. This part contains evidence of errors and omissions that appear to have been corrected by the owner of he part, probably Alleyn (60).

"The part of the actor who played the title-role in 'Duk Moraud' survives in a fourteenth-century hand on a margin of an Assize Roll for Norfolk and Suffolk of the second half of the thirteenth century in the Bodleian Library; we have also the part of God from a late text of a miracle play (c. 1570-80) which gives one or two stage-directions" (60).

c.f. J.Q. Adams Chief Pre-Shakespearean Dramas.

"In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as portion of forty-two lines was called a 'length'" (60, footnote). Wilson cites the OED.

It is unlikely that most, if any, of the King's Men's playbooks were burned in the Globe fire of 1621, as Sir Henry Wotton wrote three days after the fire that 'nothing did perish but wood and straw, and a few forsaken cloaks.' While the Fortune plays did lose their books and wardrobe when that playhouse burned, the Fortune burned at midnight, and the Globe during the middle of a performance, and it is probable that, if anything of value was stored at the Globe, the actors would have rescued it (61 - 62). Of course, if you believe Gurr, the Globe was perfunctory to the operation of the Kings Men by this time, and so it is plausible that they stored their more valuable materials at the Blackfriars.

"The most serious defect in a text supplied by a man like Crane would not lie in its 'general imperfections' but in its general perfection. In tidying up his copy and clearing away obscurities he might sometimes misinterpret the intention of his author and obliterate all chances of recovering his original" (64).


Extant dramatic documents from early modern London are rare, but they give us valuable glimpses into playhouse practice, which can help us understand how some of the plays came to print. Of particular interest is Wilson's acknowledgement that Crane, as a professional scribe, would have perfected the copy he was working from. As scientific advances in the early 20th century enabled new kinds of bibliographic work, we might also consider the types of advances 21st century has made in determining the future of bibliographic studies.

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 3

By comparison to other fields of interest to the bibliographer, formal bibliography and typography are fairly stable and certain fields of inquiry because they are examinations of mechanical processes of which we know a great deal (34).

cf McKerrow An Introduction to Bibliography for Literary Students.

cf Percy Simpson's Proofreading in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth, and Eighteenth Centuries (1935).

The level of proof correction in a print house varied according to the nature of the book, the standing of the printer, and the importance and persistence of the author. While Pope Sixtus V could expect that none of his writing would be printed without his first seeing a proof, the press could not afford to wait for most authors. Some would make regular visits to the print shop to correct their works, but they would do so with the knowledge that uncorrected sheets already pressed would be bound in the volume. To this end, some authors seem to have taken residence near the print shops for easy access (45 - 46).

In his 1608 History of Serpents, the author Topsell explains to the readers that there were 'escapes of the presse' in his 1607 History of Four-footed Beasts because the printer (William Jaggard) lacked Latin, Topsell was absence on other employments, and both of them together 'because we were not so thorowly estated, as to maintain a sufficient Scholler to attend only upon the presse' (47). As I proposed before, professional proof readers were not unknown in the period, and just as an author/publisher could chose to hire one, they could also chose not to.

There is no evidence that either Shakespeare or his fellow players (especially Heminge and Condell) did anything to correct Folio proofs; there exist in none of Shakespeare's plays any signs of cancel slips, manuscript corrections, or errata lists. There is only one case of leaves being cancelled to supply an omission to the text (47).

"What correction Shakespeare's plays received as they were passing through the press they received from the printers" (48).

Of four existing proof sheets of Elizabethan plays ("the inner forme of sheet D in one British Museum copy of Chapman's Monsieur D'Olive (1606); the outer forme of sheet B in one of the Huntingdon Library copies of The Contention (1600); and pp. 333 (Othello) and 352 (Anthony and Cleopatra) of the First Folio now in the Folger Library) errors are left uncorrected, and the errors that are corrected are technical, including punctuation and imperfections of type. These corrections could have easily been made without recourse to a manuscript (48). A footnote from Helen Gardner, who edited Wilson's work, notes that "two more proof-sheets for the Folio are now known: ff. Iv: 6(pp 62 and 71 in Romeo and Juliet) and qqI-6v (pp. 281 and 292 in Hamlet and Lear respectively)." (48 footnote 3*).

quoting Hinman: "The proofing [of the First Folio] ... achieved little indeed except in the way of obviating a fair number of superficial faults. There was a good deal of proof-correction. Over 500 changes were made. Very few substantive errors, however, were noticed at all; for the reader paid scant attention to these, and only on rare occasions did he consider it necessary for his purposes to read proof against copy" (49, footnote 1*).


Printing books is a mechanical process, and even when the errors committed in printing a book are human errors, the nature of those errors are often traceable as disruptions in the mechanical process. As a result, despite the fact that there is a great deal of mystery surrounding the records of the Stationer's Company, the London book trade, and the relationship between playing companies and publishers, the mechanics of books and typography are relatively transparent.

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 2

c.f. Pollard's Shakespeare's Folios and Quartos.

When a dramatist sold their play to a playing company, they sold their rights along with their manuscript, and if they were, like Shakespeare, sharers in that company, they continued to own the play as sharers, but not as authors in the modern sense (18).

When a theatre wished to print a playbook, they would sell it, and the rights, to a stationer, who typically assumed all of the financial risks and publishing responsibilities, just as they would when any other author sold them a work to be printed (19).

"The notion that books not entered [in the Stationer's Register] must necessarily be surreptitious has long been abandoned" (22).

A bookseller might enter a work with the Stationer's Company to secure the job of printing it, but this theory does not account for the entry and transfer of the rights of Merry Wives by and from Busby to Johnson on 8 May 1605 as Busby was not a printer, and Johnson had the quarto printed by Thomas Creede. Pollard (Shakespeare's Folios and Quartos, 45) and Greg (The Library, 4th ser. xx (1940), 379) both hypothesized that the purchaser of the copy feared trouble and insisted on the procurer of the manuscript make the registry entry on the first instance (21). All of this only makes sense if you believe in the piracy and surreptitious printing practices, which I don't see a good argument for in light of the complete absence of legal action taken against such printing. This is, of course, significant, as this bad quarto Merry Wives is a cousin to Merry Devil.

Chambers speculates that the Lord Chamberlain's order of 1619 that none of the King's Men's plays should be printed without their permission in Shakespearean Stage i.136-137 (32). The idea is, apparently, older the Lukas Erne, but I still think Massai makes a strong argument for the logic behind the Pavier quartos.


Copyright, in the modern sense, did not exist in early modern London, and our evidence for the way printing rights were handled is thin. We have Stationer's records from which we can draw inferences, but  the data that we do have does not give us sufficient information to determine how the relationships between stationers, printers, and playing companies functioned in any exact detail. We therefore must be cautious about interpreting that data with our own prejudices.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Notes on "Shakespeare and the New Bibliography" - Chapter 1

The working relationship between Pollard, Greg, and McKerrow was a cordial one, which stands in contrast to the work of Shakespeare's 18th and 19th century editors (1). Their cooperative approach to bibliographic scholarship may have been one of the reasons this group did make so many advances in their field; it is perhaps also the reason why the narrative of good and bad quartos and piracy persisted in their ranks.

K. Deighton's The Old Dramatists: Conjectural Readings (1896) is "one of the better examples of that kind of textual criticism which proposes emendation without relation to the origin of the text or inquiry into the cause of corruption" (4). I feel as if I should look this up; one of the arguments that I seem to be evolving is that a performance is, in some ways at least, an island, and to use Dessen's phrase, directors will often find themselves "re-scripting Shakespeare" for modern performance anyway. Perhaps editing for modern production has more in common with the old bibliography than with the New.

When Sidney Lee accused early modern printers of piracy in his 1898 Life of Shakespeare, Greg replied that 'it should be frankly confessed that we know very little about the old copyright regulations' (5).

The strength of McKerrow and Greg's work rested in their recognition of "what they did not know and what they needed to know" to develop bibliographic analysis into more than just a guessing game (6). Maybe I've been too hard on them; when the previous generation is guessing, and you've gone to the trouble of discovering some facts, perhaps that gives you the right to create whatever narrative you want. No, that's not true; not when that narrative means ignoring some very important facts.

The origin of the good quarto/bad quarto theory, and Pollard's melodrama of piracy, originated with Halliwell-Phillipps' defense of Heminge and Condell. Throughout the 19th century, scholar's had regarded their claims of other texts being maimed and deformed as being merely an advertisement for the new works in the Folio (11 - 12).


Whereas earlier editors of Shakespeare confined themselves to readings of the text of the plays, Pollard, Greg, McKerrow, and the rest of the New Bibliographers undertook to understand the materials and conditions under which Shakespeare's plays were printed. In doing so they were able to determine that the Pavier quartos were, despite their title impressions, all printed at roughly the same time, and to determine the lineage of several other printed texts of the period. While their work did involve a good deal of guess work, their guess work was at least grounded in historical and technical fact to the greatest extent that they were able.


Wilson, F.P. Shakespeare and the New Bibliography. Oxford: Oxford UP. 1970. Print.

Notes on "Principles of Emendation in Shakespeare"

"The fact is that there is only one general principle of emendation, which is that emendation is in its essence devoid of principle" (1).

"Emendation is an art," and while there are no general principles of emendation that can guide great editors, there are some basic rules that will help lesser editors (1). Honestly, all of this double talk just doesn't make any sense to me.

Any editor would do well to remember two facts: even careful authors do not always write the most sensible phrases, and sometimes it will be impossible to trace the agency of corruption in a particular text (4).

"When we have satisfied ourselves that an emendation is acceptable, the next question we ought to ask is what it implies with respect to the history and origin of the text" (5).

"The central point at which I am aiming is this: that no emendation can, or ought to be, considered in vacuo, but that criticism must always proceed in relation to what we know, or what we surmise, respecting the history of the text" (6). I had initially paraphrased this in the manner that follows, but F.P. Wilson saw fit to quote this passage on p. 97 of Shakespeare and the New Bibliography, so I have included it in my notes after reading it there.

No single emendation can be made without considering the historical context of the work at hand, and when more than one emendation is made, they should not involve mutually contradictory origin theories (6).

When editing plays that exist in only one version, such as the plays that were first printed in F1, beyond the general suitability to the text, there are only two general guides that an editor has at their disposal: a knowledge of the kinds of errors a compositor is likely to make in reading a text, and of the kinds of errors he is likely to make in setting the text (8). Greg loves his binaries.

In cases where there are two texts from the period, one may be taken as a correction of the other, and where the texts have common errors, it is probable that the error stems from a misreading of authorial manuscript. In this cases, it is helpful to consider what interpretation was placed on this corruption, especially by the actors who probably used it (9).

By the same logic, when a reading is specifically preserved in two extant texts, it may be a sign that it is correct, and should be retained (10). Admittedly, this is one of the reasons that I preserved "the nun will soon at night turn lippit" instead of "tippet." Lippit is a nonsense word and a clear misreading, but it is preserved in all six quartos, and tippet is perfectly sensible, if a little obscure to a modern audience, that has performative implications (i.e. Miliscent wearing a monk's robe as part of her escape). Looking back on it, I made the wrong choice, and so will generally disagree with Greg's logic here.

When considering instances in the Folio where the Folio version was apparently set from an earlier quarto, Greg says "where the texts differ, one possesses vastly greater authority than the other: where they agree, we not only have direct transcriptional witness to what the author wrote, but we know, subject to certain exceptions, that this was what was actually spoken on stage" (14). Again, I find this claim to be dubious.

For those texts in which a "good" quarto corrected a "bad" quarto, and then was used to print the Folio, the bad Romeo and Juliet is better than the good text. Greg sees this as an opportunity for "critical exploration" (21).


It's kind of hard for me to honestly evaluate W.W. Greg. He certainly makes a great deal of sense at times, but his subscription to the New Bibliography's narrative colors his view of the evidence, but I am encouraged by his ability to see that the bad quarto of Romeo and Juliet, at least, isn't all that bad. I can't help but think there is more science to emendation than Greg lets on, even if it is a science that is particular to a text, or to a set of texts. As each text needs to be regarded on its own terms, the specifics of emendation are specific to the text(s) being edited, however similar governing principles to that process seem to apply.

Greg, W.W. "Principles of Emendation in Shakespeare." Proceedings of the British Academy. Annual Shakespeare Lecture. Read 23 May 1928. Print.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Notes on "The Popularity of Playbooks Revisited"

Peter Blayney, in "The Publication of Playbooks" puts anachronisms of Pollard's anachronistic conceptions of piracy, good and bad quartos, and good and bad players and stationers to rest. It is a seminal article that represents a sea change in the way modern scholars considered the publication of Shakespeare's plays; while the New Bibliographers of Pollard's school considered the printing of playbooks a safe economic enterprise, Blayney's article effectively argues the opposite (2 - 3). I have Blayney's sequel to this article in my reading queue, but it sounds like I need to get my hands on the original.

By focusing on the relatively small number of playbooks printed in the STC (1.2%-1.6% of all STC entries between 1583 to 1642), Blayney reveals that playbooks were not a popular commodity, and that those playbooks that were printed did not sell very well (3).

Blayney's argument "is flawed at a fundamental level because it does not systematically compare the market performance of playbooks to that of other kinds of books." Popularity is a relative term, and Blayney did not examine the sale of playbooks within a sufficient context to establish this relative term. While Blayney's conclusions about piracy being a myth are true, the relative unpopularity of playbooks that he argues also turns out to be a myth (4).

The fact of an editions reprint is indicative that either the previous edition had sold out its run, or was about to, and that the publisher perceived sufficient demand to warrant a second printing (5).

Reprint rates do not reveal the number of copies bought and sold, nor the monetary investment in the publishing of an edition; Mark Bland in "The London Book-Trade in 1600" (A Companion to Shakespeare, David Scott Kastan, ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999. p 450 - 463) (5).

"Judged by reprints, plays sold much better than the average book in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, much better even than sermons... Plays were, in fact, among the most successful books in which an early modern stationer could chose to invest" (6).

Charting market trends between 1576 and 1660 reveal that the market for playbooks can be divided into six distinct periods (these bullet points represent direct quotes from page 7):

  • 1576 - 1597: an initial period of low production (48 first editions, 11 second-plus editions).
  • 1598 - 1613: a boom followed by a sustained high production (129 first editions, 79 second-plus editions)
  • 1614 - 1628: a gradual contraction, with production levels generally still above those of 1576 - 1597 (31 first editions, 65 second-plus editions)
  • 1629 - 1640: a second boom (122 first editions, 84 second-plus editions)
  • 1641 - 1649: a sharp contraction, with only one play published from 1643 - 1645 (17 first editions, 10 second-plus editions) [the article doesn't say so, but this period comprises the years of the first and second civil wars]
  • 1650 - 1660: an expansion to levels slightly above those of 1614 - 1628 (58 first editions, 27 second-plus editions) 
London play houses were thriving long before there was a market for printed playbooks, and thus stage success does not necessarily correlate to or cause print success (10).

During the 1598 to 1613 boom, Stationers perceived enough of a demand that they were willing to invest in second and third editions of plays, perhaps partially, because, as Blayney points out in his seminal article, subsequent editions involved lower production costs than first editions did, and thus would yield higher profits if the market was sound (10). It's worth mentioning that the first and second quartos of Merry Devil were printed in this boom. 

"Numerous prefaces confirm that theatrical popularity was always one element of print popularity, and publishers often advertised a play's performance history on its title page" (11).

Reprints of an edition over time testify to the popularity of a play in print, and the demands of a reading public. While the subsequent performance on the stage remains a possibility, there is no evidence to establish correlation, let alone causation (11).

The market contraction for printed plays between 1614 and 1628 underscores the independence of the print and stage markets, but it is noteworthy that this contraction was primarily in the market for new plays: the rate of re-prints only experienced a small dip (11 - 12). Again, it is noteworthy that Q3 of Merry Devil was printed during this period. 

It is possible that either the demand for printed plays shrank in this period, and publishers reprinted old plays that had done well in anticipation that they might have similar success, but it is equally likely that the supply of new plays fell, and that stationers could not acquire manuscripts to new plays as easily as they could during the preceding boom period (12).

Reprints were the backbone of the market in printed plays, and their success would have been less dependent on the success of theatrical production (13).

The Jonson and Shakespeare Folios seem to have done less to establish the market for printed playbooks than the quarto reprints towards the end of the 1590s (13).

In treating primarily on the issue of piracy, Blayney has focussed primarily on newly printed play texts, and the distinction must be made: Blayney focussed on printed play texts and not play books, and thus includes plays printed in collection (13).

During the 1598 - 1613 expansion of the market, if counting only the market in speculative printing, which discounts state proclamations, visitation articles, university theses, and the like, the ratio of professional playbooks printed to other works is roughly 1 in 24 (14 - 16).

Monopolies on certain types of books, such as almanacs and Bibles, as well as captive audiences for law books and school books, meant that a large quantity of books in the STC were not printed in a speculative manner. Playbooks were risky and non-monopolistic in nature, and thus to determine their popularity it is necessary to evaluate a stationer's choice to print a playbook instead of one of the other types of books available to them (17).

"In the first expansion period, professional plays constituted 5.8 percent of this market, or about one in every seventeen editions; in their second expansion, they made up 5.0 percent of the market, or about one in every twenty editions. In peak years, about one in every eleven editions in this market was a professional play" (18).

"Early modern stationers tended to specialize in the kinds of books they published, playbooks included" (20).

In the overall book trade, "playbooks were clearly in high demand" (20 - 21).

While sermons were consistently printed more often than playbooks in the early modern period, playbooks were reprinted more than twice as often as sermons were (21).

Mucedorus was the best-selling play of the pre-Caroline period; it was reprinted 15 times by 1642 (21).

Whereas a sermon was highly unlikely to be reprinted at all if not within five years of its first edition, playbooks thrived well beyond this five year window. Only 2.4% of sermons were re-printed after five years, but 19.7% of plays were reprinted between 6 and 20 years after their first edition; even within this five year window, playbooks were reprinted at a rate of about 20.2%, which surpasses the rate for all speculative print books in the STC (22).

Outside of the 20 year window, the reprint rate for professional plays jumps to 48.6 percent (22).

"Plays not only repaid their publishers' investments more quickly than other books, but they also remained profitable for longer" (24).

Scholars have traditionally regarded playbooks as low-cost, low-profit, and high-risk investments, but if the largest volumes (such as the Geneva Bible) are discounted from the average length of printed books, playbooks are fairly typical in length. Given their popularity evident from re-print rates, and the long term profits those must have generated, printing playbooks was a middling-cost, middling-profit, low-risk venture, which would have made them attractive for speculators (25).

The relatively small number of printed playbooks might plausibly speak more to the available supply of play scripts than demand for new ones. The number of professional playbooks printed was of necessity determined by the number of plays performed on the professional stages. As the professional playing companies settled into established repertories, they had less of a need to commission new plays, which meant less new plays were available (26). It is also plausible that printers would have been most interested in printing plays that had been popular on the stage, as they would have come with their own customer base. While there may not have been enough facts to establish a correlation between print and stage popularity, it seems rational that, given the choice between printing a popular play and an unpopular one, one that had been "damned" on its opening, for example, a printer would have chosen to bet their money on the one that had already passed the trial of the public stage. That is certainly how they advertised it, anyway.


When viewing playbooks in the context of other speculative books printed in the early modern period, they appear to be a far less risky venture than some recent scholars, Blayney in particular, have suggested. While this does not imply a need to return to what Blayney describes as Pollard's "melodrama" of pirate players and printers, it means that we ought to view the printing of plays as both a good financial investment, and that we ought to examine the lack of new plays printed as an indication of a lack of supply rather than a lack of demand. 


Farmer, Alan B and Zachary Lesser. "The Popularity of Playbooks Revisited." Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol. 56, No. 1. Spring 2005. p 1 - 32.

Notes on "The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works - Chapter 4

Venus and Adonis is Shakespeare's first printed work, it was printed in 1593 by Richard Field ad sold by John Harrison. Field entered the poem in the Stationer's register on 18 April 1593. Shakespeare's second printed work was The Rape of Lucrece, also printed by Field and sold by Harrison; first printed in 1594, Lucrece was entered in the Stationer's register by Harrison on 9 May 1594. While there is no evidence that Shakespeare personally oversaw their printing, both are cleanly printed and appear to be set from the author's holograph. This same care and attention was not devoted to the printing of any other of Shakespeare's works during his lifetime (73 - 75).

Williams calls the Pavier quarto arrangement "higgledy-piggldy" (87). Most of his assessment of Shakespeare in print is a standard trope of New Bibliography; there are "bad quartos" which are pirated, "good quartos" that are attempts to correct the work of the author in print, and the Folio. Especially in light of Massai's analysis of the Pavier Quartos, I found Williams' description amusing.

The printers of the First Folio seem to have been playhouse and printshop professionals, but a more 'editorial' hand guided the Second Folio, which makes considered corrections and improvements to the text over F1. The Third and Fourth Folios were printed by men who were more typographically sensitive, the result culminating in the Fourth Folio which, unlike its predecessors, is a "handsome" volume patterned after continental printings, the quality of which outpaced the English (90 - 92 quotation from 90).

"It is true that [Shakespeare] wrote many more lines to his play than could be spoken in a production" (92).

Shakespeare wrote plays "from the joy and agony of writing, not to see them appear printed on pages in a book" (93). Wow. In the same breath that Williams says Shakespeare wrote more lines than would actually be performed, he also says that Shakespeare wrote them because he was a Writer. Here we see the flaw of the New Bibliography in action: the understanding of Shakespeare as a writer in the purely artistic sense. Only a fictional character could be so dedicated to the production of words for the sake of words. Shakespeare was a man of the playhouse, and too prodigious a businessman to waste time writing words that he never expected to be read or performed.


The New Bibliographers have a rather consistent narrative of the history of William Shakespeare's plays in print, and a view of Shakespeare as a pure author who was interested in writing beautiful words for the sake of beauty. They are also persistent in ignoring or disregarding evidence to the contrary. Williams has clearly fixed himself in that tradition in this last chapter, and despite a book filled with otherwise interesting historical data about the rise of print, comes to a rather blase conclusion.


Williams, George Walton. The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works. Washington: Folger Books. 1985. Print.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Notes on "The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works - Chapter 3

1474 - Histories of Troy, printed by Johann Valdener, with his apprentice William Caxton; the first book printed in English (63).

Caxton set up a bookshop in Westminster in 1476, and set up a press shortly thereafter in Almonry, west of the Abbey. A Papal Indulgence, with a date filled in of 13 December 1476, is the earliest extant document from this print shop, and the earliest book printed was the early 1477 History of Jason, which is the first book printed in England (63 - 64).

In 1495 Wynkyn de Worde printed the first book to be made of English paper (milled by John Tate at Stevenage in Hertfordshire). Richard Pynson of Normandy introduced roman type to English print shops in 1509, De Worde printed the first Greek characters in England in 1517, and printed the first Hebrew and Arabic type in 1528 (67).

The Company of Stationers pre-dates printing in London; the guild existed as a group of scribes, illuminators, binders, and book sellers, and while overwhelmed by the influx of new books, they appear to have embraced the new technology and peaceably integrated printing into their professional community (67).

The Stationers company received control of printing in England via a royal charter from Queen Mary in 1557. This allowed them to determine the number of presses a printer could have, the maximum number of books printed in an edition (the maximum was 1500 copies), and the number of journeyman and apprentices a master printer could keep. Perhaps more significantly, it established a primitive method of copyright, allowing a printer to record the title of works he had purchased and his intention to publish (70).

The Company of Stationers formed a self-regulating body, mostly of book sellers and printers by their chartering, which kept out foreign influence, which pleased the crown, as it helped prevent the publication of foreign, seditious, or heretical works (70).


The development of printing in England came after printing had spread to the continent, but printed books easily integrated within the professional framework of scribes, and book binders and sellers. As on the continent, the production of books increased at a geometric rate after the introduction of the press. Royal charter gave official sanction to the Company of Stationers, which served as a self-regulating body to ensure fair trade among its members, and while a book did not have to be registered with the Stationer's Company to be printed, doing so provided legal protection should someone else attempt to print it.

On the Lighter Side of the History of Printing

So here are a couple things I thought I would share that amused me. The first....

That was cute, eh? But here's something better because it's a nice summary of some key points of the last few chapters I've been reading: know, not about the alien baby part, though.

Notes on "The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works - Chapter 2

Early printed books sought to reproduce the books created in scriptoria, and thus early typefaces were designed to resemble the same letters that scribes commonly used. Gutenberg saw no need to supplant the work of the illuminator, and thus he printed his books with spaces for illuminators to adorn printed books exactly as they did with manuscripts (34).

The first styles copied for print were of the family that we call "black letter." There were four formal hands (Textura (the most formal), Fere-humanistica, Rotunda, and Bastarda) and one informal (signature). More informal hands have less curves in their letters, Textura (which was used for the Gutenberg bible) is strictly angular and lacks any curves at all (the letter "o" is produced with six straight lines). Fere-humanistica had rounder, more open letters than Textura, and footless descenders (Textura's descenders had feet) that ended bluntly; this typeface was used for general works in Latin. Rotunda had curved letters within the straight lines of Textura, and tended to be used for works in the vernacular. Bastarda has many curved letters and the "f" and "long-s" descend below the line; it was the least formal of the formal faces, and was used for legal or general works (35).

Roman fonts were developed for classical works because the more modern black letter faces were considered inappropriate, and although modern scholars place the use of this lettering in the Carolingian period (~780 - ~900 AD), Renaissance scribes thought the face originated in ancient Rome. The first book printed in Italy, Cicero's De oratore, was printed in a Roman font in 1465 that is the ancestor of all other Roman faces (35).

The italic face was developed by Francesco Griffo while working in Venetian print house of Aldus Manutius, and was modeled on the cursive hand of the papal chancery. It was intended to be an economical alternative to roman typeface printing, but under the guidance of the designer Francois Guyot, working in Antwerp for the house of Plantin, italic face gained its function as a secondary and subordinate typeface used in conjunction with roman letters (37).

The primacy of roman, or "white-letter" faces, based on the classical model, came to supersede the more medieval black letter faces, with the primacy of white letter being established by around 1500, although vernacular works continued to be printed in black letter for years to come (37).

cf Stanley Morison's "Introduction to The New Hebrew Typography by Hugh J. Schonfield. London: Dennis Archer, 1932. Also other works by Morison, whom Williams calls "the eminent historian of typography" (37).

Canon roman is a large roman font that appears on the heading of "large and important volumes" such as the 1611 King James Bible and First Folio. Pica roman and italic, the smallest size of type available on specimen sheets designed by Francois Guyot in Antwerp in ~1565, but used by him in London in the 1570s, are the typefaces used for most of the original printings of Shakespeare's plays in single editions (39).

The long-s began disappearing from English after 1785 (40). I don't know how useful that is to my thesis, but it's an interesting fact.

One of Gutenberg's key innovations was the alloy formula he used for the creation of type: 75% lead, 12% tin, 12% antimony, 1% copper; this formula heats easily, cools quickly, neither expands nor shrinks during the heating and cooling process, and retains its solid shape over a lengthy service life. While modern formulas reduce the amount of lead and increase the amounts of other ingredients, modern type-casters still essentially follow Gutenberg's formula (46-47).

While specific measurements of sizes of paper varied between print shops in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, a few sizes were agreed upon and regarded as roughly equivalent: Imperial (75 x 50 cm, 29" x 19-3/4"), Royal (60 x 44 cm, 24" x 17-1/2"), Demy (one half Imperial: 50 x 35 cm, 19-1/2" x 13-3/4"), and Foolscap (45 x 31.5 cm, 17-1/2" x 12-1/2"). Two other sizes were added in the sixteenth century: Crown (between Demy and Foolscap) and Pot (smaller than Foolscap). In the seventeenth century Medium was added (between Royal and Demy) (52).

Paper was available unfolded as a "broadside" or "broadsheet," which was suitable for public bills, or for books requiring large illustrations; folio, which was a broadside folded once, creating two leaves and four pages; quarto a broadside folded twice creating four leaves and eight sheets; octavo is a broadside folded three times for eight leaves and 16 sheets, and the series continues to sixteens (16mo), thirty-twos (32mo), and sixty fours (64mo). Twelvemo was an intermediary system that yielded books more convenient for handling than some of the folds based on fours; this system continued with eighteens (18mo) and twenty-fours (24mo) (53).

"The critical figured in the entire [printing] process were the compositors, because it was through their minds and fingers that the ideas of the text before them were 'committed to type'" (53).

Compositors were generally faithful to their responsibility to set an author's words faithfully, but they were also responsible for standardizing the author's spelling, form of words, capitalization, and punctuation; in this process they tended to subsume the idiosyncrasies of an author into their own, or into those of their print shop (likely both) (53 - 54).

"The number of pages to be printed at one time depends on the format of the book to be printed. For a folio volume the printer will print two pages at one time on one side of the sheet and then will print two pages on the other side of the sheet (perfect the sheet). The pages that fill either side of the sheet constitute one forme. The pages that will lie on the inside of the sheet when it is folded constitute the inner forme; those on the ourside, the outer forme. The pages of the inner forme of a sheet in folio will be pages two and three; the pages of the outer forme will be pages one and four. All of the pages of a forme are printed simultaneously" (55).

At a normal rate of speed, roughly 250 sheets could be printed per hour (59).

The number of copies printed in an edition was commonly somewhere between 1000 and 1500, and on the low end of this scale, a complete edition of a book containing either 48 folio or 96 quarto pages could be printed in as little as twelve days (two weeks time) (59).

"The amount of care given to the proofreading of early books varied with the importance of the work being printed and the time available" (59).

Compositors typically read over the line in their composing sticks, and may have read the pages on the forme, but for typographical and not literary concerns. More important works would have had a corrector proof read an early printing of a forme and mark errors; it was not customary for the press corrector to refer to the original manuscript, he was merely reading the sheet for sense, and if the sheet made sense as printed, he would let it pass (59).

"Uncorrected sheets already printed, the proof sheet itself, and the corrected sheets were all equally valid in the eye of the printer, and all were bound up indiscriminately in the final copies of a book to be put on sale" (60).

Holinshed's Chronicles of Enland, Scotland, and Ireland was an exception to the standard printing practice; a copy containing hundreds of page of proof sheets is currently held by the Henry E. Huntingdon library (60).

Checking a book for accuracy and fidelity to original copy was possible, but the process was cumbersome, time consuming, and expensive, and therefore was reserved for only the most important works: the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, foreign language works, and other books of suitable import. Proof sheets were not sent out of the print house to be corrected by the author until the eighteenth century (60).

Book binding was an ancient technique, much like paper making, and the advent of printing had more of a quantitative than a qualitative impact on the trade: there were many more books being produced to be bound. Only a few copies of a book would be bound initially, the rest were sold as sheets stitched together, although Bibles, prayer books, and law books were usually sold already bound (60).

The 1549 Book of Common Prayer contains the following notice describing binding options and costs:
No maner of persone shall sell this present Booke vnpbounde, aboue the price of two shillynges and two pence. And bound in Forell [parchment] for .ii.s xd. [two shillings and ten pence] and not aboue. And the same bound in Shepes Lether for iii.s. iiii. pence [three shillings and four pence] and not aboue. And the same bounde in paste or in boordes, in Calues Lether, not aboue the price of .iiii.s [four shillings] the pece. God saue the Kyng.
(qtd in Williams 62).


The development of printing evolved from an emulation of the previous technology (manuscript) into a technical discipline in its own right. Even in the early days of printing, Gutenberg realized that the new technology would best serve a mass-market approach, and while a market later emerged for elegance and decoration of printed books, the technology and techniques of the print house were developed for speed and economy. While printers who were not faithful to their copy would not likely be in business for long, technical accuracy was the primary concern of the print house; more literary considerations were appropriate for larger volumes of more important works, but the sort of editorial scrutiny that modern authors have come to expect would have significantly increased the price of early modern books.

Just as publishers of "more important"editions chose to incur (and pass on) the costs added by having an annotating reader serve as copy editor, publishers of other works implicitly chose not to. I am, of course, specifically thinking of Arthur Johnson and his quartos of The Merry Devil of Edmonton.

Notes on "The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works - Chapter 1

On the heels of Massai's work, and in the wake of McKerrow's speech, I'm continuing my readings on Shakespeare in print with George Walton Williams' The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works. Lacking Shakespeare's papers, we can only view his works through print, but Shakespeare in print was a product of the intramural collaborations of the early modern playhouse and and print house, and the collaboration between these two highly collaborative worlds. I'm hoping Williams' book will give me a little bit more insight into the print house world.

This first chapter is titled "The Invention of Printing."

The renaissance mind thought of printing as a way of conquering time. The earliest depiction of a printing press is in the 1499 La grant dans macabre, published in Lyons, shows three figures of death taking a compositor, a pressman, and a bookseller performing their work. Likewise, a 1567 French illustration (printed in Poitiers) of a printing press in La Fauconnerie de messire Arthelouche contains two mottoes: vitam mortuo reddo ("I restore life from death") and je ravie le mort ("I despoil death") (15).

The 1578 Book of Christian Prayers contains the motto "We Printers wrote with wisedome's pen: / She lives for aye, we die as men." (15).

Prior to the development of the printing press, books were transmitted through copies created by scribes one word at a time. A form of mass production of texts was possible with a single individual reading aloud from a book while multiple scribes write down what they hear. Either of these forms of textual transmission were slow, tedious, costly, and subject to human error. The time and monetary cost involved limited the production of books to those that were of special importance or significance to the producers (19).

"Though it is easy to say that Gutenberg invented printing, it is not so easy to define what that invention actually was; for the invention of printing depended not on the contrivance of a single mechanical device but on the development of several devices, techniques, and elements and on the synthesis of them all" (20).

The idea of movable type existed before Gutenberg, but he invented a practical process for doing so (20 - 21).

The earliest printed document from Gutenberg's print shop is a Papal Indulgence from 1454; other early works include selections from school books, calendars, and scraps of poetry (21).

In November of 1455, Johannes Fust, Gutenberg's financier, foreclosed on the print shop, which continued operation without Gutenberg and printed the "Gutenberg Bible" in 1455 or early 1456 (21).

Between 1450 - 1500, the first 50 years of printing, more than 8 million books were printed in Western Europe, roughly 1/3 of them illustrated. This level of book production was unprecedented in the history of the world (23).

On 9 August 1516, a scholarly collector in Bologna wrote to a book seller in Leipzig -- 500 miles away, over the Alps and across a national boundary -- to order a book; he received the book less than 2 weeks later on 22 August 1516 (27 - 29).


It might go without saying, but printing changed the course of European history. We traditionally credit the invention of printing to Gutenberg, and while the idea of movable type printing was not new, Gutenberg synthesized several technologies to make printing practical for large scale endeavors. The mass production of a text in printed form helps ensure that texts survival, and thus thinkers and practitioners came to see themselves as achieving a kind of immortality: their words would survive through the ages.


Williams, George Walton. The Craft of Printing and the Publication of Shakespeare's Works. Washington: Folger Books. 1985. Print.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Notes on "The Treatment of Shakespeare's Text by His Earlier Editors"

While the editions of McKerrow's contemporaries may be more textually accurate than those produced by Shakespeare's 18th century editors, many of those who read Shakespeare purely for pleasure do not need an edition filled with extensive scholarly scaffolding; this might actually hinder their enjoyment of his work. Shakespearean scholars therefore owe a debt to the "less careful, I might almost say less respectful, treatment accorded to him by [Rowe, Pope, Theobald, Johnson, and the other eighteenth century editors]" (1-2, quotation on 2).

The alterations in the 1632, 1663, and 1685 folios tend to be of the sort one would expect to see in reprints of the works of a contemporary or recent author: they correct errors and modernize spelling and typographical practice. Where Rowe significantly diverges is that he regularly substitutes modern forms of words: i.e. 'whilst' for 'whiles,' 'been' for 'bin,' 'an' for 'and' in the sense of 'if,' 'he' for 'a,' &c (3).

Rowe's edition is largely a reprint of F4, but it is a careful and intelligent one for its date and purpose. Rowe was conservative, and seldom made changes to the text where the text made sense, excepting the case of Hamlet, where he collated with a later (probably post-1676) quarto copy (7 - 8).

More important than Rowe's textual work was his insertion and regularization of lists of dramatis personae, the correction of stage directions (especially entrances and exits), the addition of act and scene divisions, and the addition of scene locations. These emendations to the text of Shakeseare's works make them more convenient for a reader of the plays (9).

Rowe likewise normalized character names, such as Aegeon in Comedy of Errors. It is noteworthy that McKerrow perceives the author as thinking in terms of dramatic function when he writes speech prefixes for the character; while that may be telling information about the playwright or for an actor, it is likely to confuse the casual reader (9).

Rowe seems to have carefully made sure that entrances and exits for characters were correctly indicated, but otherwise did not make extensive additions to them, although he sometimes used different wording (10).

In F1, six of the plays are printed without any kind of act or scene division, Hamlet is divided up to the second act, but no further divisions are given, eleven plays are divided solely into acts, and the remaining eighteen into both acts and scenes (11).

While it may be true that Shakespeare provides the scene locations in dialog when it is necessary for an audience to know, or that seeing the characters on stage will otherwise be sufficient for an audience to understand the action on stage, readers of the plays do not have the latter frame of reference, and thus are incapable of seeing the action in their minds eye. Rowe's addition of scene locations thus makes Shakespeare's plays "more generally readable" (12).

On 2 August 1721 Francis Atterbury, Bishop of Rochester, sent a letter to Pope claiming that "the hardest part of Chaucer is more intelligible to me than some of those scenes [of Shakespeare]...there are allusions in him to an hundred things, of which I knew nothing and can guess nothing. And yet without some competent knowledge of those matters there is no understanding him. I protest Aeschylus does not want a comment to me more than he does." It is noteworthy that Atterbury was a learned and well read man (13).

When creating his edition, Pope relied on F1, F2, and quartos published before 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death; he seemingly regarded later quartos to be without authority. He kept Rowe's dramatis personae lists, and expanded act and scene editions to follow French-scene customs that create a new scene every time a major character enters or leaves the stage (14 - 15).

Despite Rowe's claim to have compared his copy text with several editions, he appears to have done very little of this, and Pope seems to be the first Shakespearean editor to attempt to gather all authoritative texts to create the best text possible for his own edition (17).

"New readings of authority can never be obtained by comparing texts in the same line of descent, where the earliest must obviously be the most authoritative, but only by comparing texts in different lines of descent." This is because later editions of a print text tend to be compared to earlier printed versions and not to authorial draft copy (18).

"It seems to be customary among editors of English classics to use as the basis of their own edition that particular earlier one which in their preface they most vehemently condemn; and Theobald follows the custom by using Pope's" (22).

Edward Capell, by leaving his extensive collection of original quarto copies to Trinity College, facilitated the creation of the Cambridge editors in 1863-1866 (27).


Each of the eighteenth century editors of Shakespeare made contributions to the readability of Shakespeare's text for their audiences, even if they did not arrive at readings that New Bibliographers would call more authorial. McKerrow praises Capel, especially, for collecting a great compendium of facts, but notes that he didn't seem to know what to do with it (27). In a way, McKerrow is guilty of the same offense: he has compiled an index of noteworthy contributions to the development of Shakespearean readership and scholarship of Shakespeare's early editors, but cannot help but see them in light of the New Bibliography. By viewing the eighteenth century editors in terms of their failure to live up to the standards of the New Bibliography, McKerrow cannot see how each of these editors addressed specific needs within their market place, and thus unwittingly links himself with the failings he has accused these editors of.


McKerrow, Ronald B. "The Treatment of Shakespeare's Text By His Earlier Editors." Proceedings of the British Academy Annual Shakespeare Lecture. Red 26 April 1933.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Notes on "Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays"

Alfred Hart made the case for an approximate two hour time limit to plays in the early modern period, a view that is still prevalent, and which has implications for understanding of how much of Shakespeare's plays would have been performed versus how much would have been cut, and why he (or his contemporaries) would have written plays so much longer than 2400-3000 lines if they knew they would be severely cut for performance. Theatrical performance was, however, more flexible than common wisdom suggests, and likely could have accommodated full performances of even a long play (159).

Hart and Erne argue for strict two hour running times based on the average length of plays by playwrights other than Jonson or Shakespeare, but fail to account for playgoing as a theatrical event that included more entertainment than the play proper. Such a theatrical event could have lasted almost four hours; such conditions may have favored a longer play (159 - 160). 

cf. Klein, David. "Time Alloted for an Elizabethan Performance." Shakespeare Quarterly 18 (1967): 434-438.

Hart estimates that the speaking time for verse is about 20 lines per minute, which is what the American Shakespeare Center regularly achieves in performance, and when experimenting with early modern pronunciation has achieved slightly higher rates of delivery, so Hart's estimation should be regarded as "about right." (160 - 161; quoted text on 160).

Before the mid-1590s, London companies performed after evening prayer, which typically ran from about 2 PM to about 3:30 PM. Stage performances began "towards fower a clock" (Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, 4:316), and would regularly be in progress at 6:00, which we know because the great earthquake of 1580 struck at about 6 PM and interrupted performance at both the Theatre and the Curtain. Plays in winter "routinely continued past dark," even at outdoor, public theatres (161).

Performances could have lasted as late as 8 PM, as evidenced by an assembly of insubordinate apprentices on 11 June 1592 at "abowt viij of the clock" (Chambers, Elizabethan Stage, 4:310) (162).

After the mid-1590s, plays would begin around 2 PM, but would similarly last about four hours. Thomas Platter, a Swiss visitor to London in 1599, attests to this (see Chambers 2:364).  Other sources indicate that audiences sometimes began to gather at about 1 PM (162 - 163).

It is plausible that pre-show entertainments might have begun at about 2 PM, but the play proper might not have commenced until about 3 PM, which would account for the line in Robert Dawes' contract with the owners of the Hope that he be ready to begin the play at 3 PM (164 - 165).

A January 1619 petition to the city government of London, signed by "ministers and citizens of the Blackfriars precinct," complains that coaches fill the streets "from one or twoe of the clock till sixe att night" (165).

Shakespeare makes a reference to the passage of time in The Tempest. Early in the play, Prospero notes that the time is "At least two glasses. The time 'twixt six and now / Must by us both be spent most preciously" (1.2.240-241). Near the play's conclusion, Ariel gives the time as "on the sixth hour" (5.1.3), affirming the passage of time (166). That's fascinating to me; the Chorus of Romeo and Juliet describing the running time of "two-hours traffic" is one of the most commonly cited running times for plays; I can't help but wonder why this slightly more specific reference is ignored. Perhaps because The Tempest doesn't take four hours to perform? But then again, maybe it would if you did the mask. 

While the sky would be dark by 6 PM through most of winter, outdoor theatres had and used artificial lighting. Such lighting would make little impression on audiences as special effects during daylight hours, but would provide enough light to see by at night (168).

While the Elizabethan theatrical event could take almost four hours, not all of that time was necessarily spent watching plays, and while impressions of a running time of about two hours are common for the period, they are no more precise than an approximation of two hours for modern films, which commonly run shorter or longer. In Hart's obsession with averages of the lengths of printed playbooks, he fails to account for the easily observable fact that surviving play books vary widely in length (169). Merry Devil, at about 1100 lines long should, by Hart's calculus, take about 55 minutes to play; Bad Quarto's production ran a little over 73 minutes at its best, including about 15 minutes or pre-show music, so we weren't far off.

"Twenty four printed plays written or performed between 1594 and 1616 hold fewer than two thousand lines. Twenty-seven have more than three thousand. Sixty are shorter than 2,500 lines; seventy-four are longer (169)." This is Hart's data (page 83). 

"Such a variation can have occurred only if the acting companies wanted play scripts at these various lengths" (169 - 170).

Erne dismisses the works of Jonson and Shakespeare as having to conform to the two-hour rule because they were more literary than the workaday writers who had to sell scripts to companies, but Jonson was one of these writers, and would not have been able to sell scripts that playing companies would be unable to use without extensive re-writing (170).

"Time spent writing excess material was time spent without remuneration" (171).

For Erne's argument, including Erne's admission that Shakespeare did not participate in the publication of his plays, see "Shakespeare and the Publication of his Plays," Shakespeare Quarterly 53 (2002): 1 - 20, esp 16 - 19.

"There is a far more plausible explanation [than Erne's] for Shakespeare's and Jonson's long plays. The acting companies wanted those long plays because the plays were written by Shakespeare and Jonson. Their names drew large audiences to the theatre, audiences who wanted to hear more of what they wrote" (171).

While so-called prompt copies were sometimes cut, they do not appear to have been cut to normalize (or significantly shorten) running times (172).

While referrence to the two hour running time of a play is common, plays are also commonly described as running three hours in length, sometimes four, and sometimes only one (173 - 174).

John Rowe reports a 1653 production of Mucedorus by a semi-professional group that lasted about three hours, despite the relative brevity of the extant play text (174).

Elizabethans did not measure time as precisely as we tend to in the modern era. Personal time pieces were rare, as were minute hands, and most people would have measured time by the hourly-ringing of church bells. two-bells could have rung in either an hour and two minutes or two hours and 58 minutes (175).

Thirteen plays from the early modern period are identified as taking two hours to perform. The shortest of these is The Hog Hath Lost His Pearl, which has 1951 lines. The longest is The Alchemist, which at 3066 lines just barely edges out Romeo and Juliet, the second longest at 2989 (175).

The majority of the incidental entertainments offered during theatrical events are likely to have been instrumental music pieces, but juggling, tumbling, sword dancing, singing, clowning, and contests of wit may have also been common (176).

Historical sources agree on the play beginning at the third sounding of a trumpet, and the first being used to indicate that the playhouse was open, but the timing of the third sounding was imprecise. The start time of the play would be partially determined by the length of pre-show entertainments (177).

Acting companies varied the time they spent on such [incidental] entertainment in inverse proportion to the time they devoted to the plays, a practice that explains much conflicting evidence (181).

Given the approximately four hours available for a theatrical event, a play that long would, by Hart's calculus, need to be about 3900 lines long, and none of Shakespeare's, and only a few of Jonson's, ar that long (181 - 182).


The theatrical event of early modern London comprised of about four hours time, and generally more than the play itself. In the case of shorter plays, such as Merry Devil, it may therefore be possible that the play was printed more or less as performed, and perhaps that the play was not performed alone. One act plays are commonly, in modern times, presented in groups, and it is not inconceivable that early modern Londoners might have enjoyed the same thing. In any case, Merry Devil is a short play, far shorter than the time that would have been alloted to its performance, especially given its popularity. 


Hirrel, Michael J. "Duration of Performances and Lengths of Plays: How Shall We Beguile the Lazy Time?" Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol 61. No 2. Summer 2010. p 159 - 182. Print.